Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Thursday or Friday Crucifixion?

Easter is a calendar date, a Christian observance, and the focus of lots of intriguing current news.

Believers around the world and across the ages have held that spring is the season of crucifixion observance and the resurrection, although they are by no means united as to the actual days these events actually occurred.

The latest entry into the calendar debate comes from University of Cambridge professor Colin Humphreys, who claims his ardent research reveals that the Last Supper was held on Wednesday evening and that the events between then and the crucifixion were more and longer than previously thought. Over the years, some churches celebrated Maundy Thursday, also claiming that the crucifixion actually occurred on Thursday and not Friday.

I believe as more evidence from that time is compared with historical and biblical study, that both the professor and Maundy Thursday celebrants will be vindicated. Here’s how.

The Gospel accounts take one only through the day on Wednesday, not Thursday. If a Thursday crucifixion is correct, a Wednesday Last Supper has to be correct.

Convoluted dating for a Friday crucifixion includes the popular idea that Jewish thinking counted parts of days as whole days, which would make three days from Friday afternoon through Sunday morning. But Christ predicted, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt 12:40).

The biggest problem with that idea is that the body of Christ could no way be in the tomb that long if the crucifixion took place on Friday. That it was His body (temple) is clear in John 2:19-22: “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ Then the Jews said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?’ But He was speaking of the temple of His body. Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.”

The events of crucifixion day would make interment after 6:00 PM (the end of the Jewish day). Consider the length of time for “It is finished!”, the spearing of Christ’s side to confirm death, the appeal for His body, taking down the body, transporting it and the involved and time-consuming embalming process before entombment (John 19:31-42). Christ’s body wouldn’t have been in the tomb on Friday at all, and it would already be Saturday. At least we have parts of three days with the crucifixion on Thursday.

Exodus 12 seems to settle the date of the crucifixion on Thursday. The best minds claim that Palm Sunday was on the 10th of Nisan (somewhat corresponding to March-April on our modern calendar). That was the day Jewish fathers selected their unflawed lamb for Passover: “…On the tenth of this month every man shall take for himself a lamb, according to the house of his father, a lamb for a house.” (Exodus 12:3).

On Palm Sunday, Christ first allowed his followers to claim Him King, which would have been seen as sedition by to Romans. Only they had the right of capitol punishment to effect a crucifixion. In effect, He was publicly selecting Himself as a sacrificial Lamb. The final charge tacked on the cross was “King of the Jews.”

Passover lambs were to be killed on the 14th day of the month. “… Now you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight.” (Ex. 12:6) If the 10th was a Sunday, the day for slaying the lamb would be a Thursday. “Twilight” (“evening” in the old King James Version) is literally “between the evenings.” Some believe that this is actually mid-afternoon.

Another interesting piece of the dating puzzle is that there were so many lambs to be slaughtered that two Passover days were held, one on Thursday and another on Friday, which explains the seeming conflicts between the Gospel accounts.

While examination and even speculation is intriguing, the real issue is “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” (1 Cor. 15:3-4) These are facts no matter what days they occurred.

God doesn’t demand of us a knowledge of proper dates but personal faith in Christ’s finished work. A favorite Easter song is a biographical testimony I hope you can also give:

Living, He loved me; dying, He saved me;
Buried, He carried my sins far away;
Rising, He justified freely forever;
One day He’s coming – O glorious day!

Dave Virkler

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